On Monday, federal prosecutors filed hate crime charges against the man suspected in an anti-Semitic machete attack that occurred Saturday evening in the suburban New York home of a Hasidic rabbi.
The criminal complaint — filed in Manhattan — says 37-year-old Grafton Thomas was fueled by “anti-Semitic sentiments” when he entered Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg’s Monsey, New York, home and began attacking people with an 18-inch machete, the Washington Post, NBC News, and the Los Angeles Times report.
Authorities allegedly found anti-Semitic writings in Thomas’ journal after conducting a search of his vehicle and home. His phone search history also drew attention, as he allegedly recently Googled “German Jewish Temples near me” and “Why did Hitler hate the Jews” on his phone, the Washington Post reports.
He also allegedly searched “Zionist temples in Elizabeth NJ” and “prominent companies founded by Jews in America.”
On Monday, Thomas’ family released a statement claiming he suffers from a long history of mental illness. “We believe the actions of which he is accused, if committed by him, tragically reflect profound mental illness for which … Grafton has received episodic treatment before being released,” the statement reads, according to CNN.
The family’s statement also claims Thomas has “no known history of anti-Semitism” and was “raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races.”
In a Monday news conference, Thomas’ lawyer, Michael H. Sussman, said the suspect had been hospitalized for his mental illnesses multiple times in 2019 and was on various medications.
Thomas uttered no words before allegedly using a knife “the size of a broomstick” to stab five people inside the rabbi’s home, according to one witness who escaped the violence unscathed.
Aron Kohn, 65, spoke to reporters on Saturday evening after the 10 p.m. incident, and said he was inside Rabbi Rottenberg’s Monsey, New York, house when the suspect entered, carrying an ominous case.
The rabbi was near the Hanukkah candles when the attack began, Kohn said.
“I was praying for my life,” Kohn told reporters, including those from the New York Times and WABC. “He started attacking people right away as soon as he came in the door. We didn’t have time to react at all.”
According to Kohn, the suspect pulled a large knife out of the case.
Dozens of congregants were within the house at the time.
Five were stabbed and wounded, with three people released from the hospital as of Sunday afternoon. Two others remain under the care of doctors, but the severity of their injuries is unclear at this time. The names and ages of the injured have not been released. One of those attacked was the rabbi’s son, according to the Times.
The rabbi’s home is next to a synagogue, Congregation Netzach Yisroel. Witnesses told Chabad media director, Rabbi Motti Seligson, that people fled the house and locked themselves inside the synagogue for protection. The rabbi led the service at the synagogue later, he said.
Monsey is a suburb near Manhattan with a large Hasidic population.
During a press conference Sunday morning, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called the attack an “act of domestic terrorism.”
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The New York Police Department apprehended Thomas in Harlem shortly after the attack.
In addition to the newly filed hate crime charges, Thomas has been charged with five counts of attempted murder and one count of first-degree burglary, PEOPLE confirms.
He was arraigned on Sunday and pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder and burglary charges, the Associated Press reported. Bail was set at $5 million.
Cuomo noted that Saturday’s violence was the 13th anti-Semitic attack in the state of New York since Dec. 8.